12 Holiday Songs…is part of a series. To read them in order: Day One, Sara Bareilles’ Love is Christmas
I am completely remiss that a full year as gone by since stargayzing’s inception and nary a mention of the Divine Miss M—the legendary Bette Midler—only one of the greatest performers ever. I can offer no particular reason for my sin of omission, except to say she was on my short list of people I wanted to write a major piece about and I had been waiting till I could craft something worthy of her importance.
As an act of contrition I am offering her recording of Merry Christmas from her juanty 2006 holiday recording Cool Yule. Leave it to Bette and co-producer Barry Manilow to unearth one of the hidden gems in the MGM vaults. Merry Christmas was written specifically for Judy Garland’s penultimate MGM film, 1949’s In The Good Old Summertime. (Serious pink wedge trivia alert: In The Good Old Summertime was a musical remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s brilliant 1940 film The Shop Around The Corner, which starred Jimmy Stewart, which was based on a play called Parfumerie written by Micklos Laszlo. The same story was remade by Nora Ephron in 1998 as You’ve Got Mail. Parfumerie was also the basis of the Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick musical She Loves Me. Got that?)
If the world were fair and just, Merry Christmas, which was memorably performed in the film by Judy Garland with all of the customary pathos one would expect, would have joined the singer’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, introduced a few years before in Meet Me in St. Louis, as a holiday standard. The song’s music was written by Fred Spielman (who may or may not be related to my dentist of 25 years, Howard Spielman), with lyrics by Janice Torre. The pair also wrote Paper Roses, which is not nearly as a good a song as Merry Christmas, which didn’t stop it from being a Top-10 hit twice, first for infamous homophobe Anita Bryant in 1960, and then again for an adolescent Marie Osmond in 1973.
Bette’s Cool Yule, which was nominated for a Grammy,is a first-tier holiday album and well-worth adding to your collection. Here is the studio version of the song plus a lovely live version from the Martha Stewart show.
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